London has been transformed during Titus Chalk’s two years away. But he believes it will be a change in the attitude of the people, not just the new infrastructure, which will be the Games’ defining legacy.
Sitting on the grass beneath leaden skies at the height of summer, it is tempting to ask what hasn’t changed here in London. But as a one-time local, who left the Big Smoke for Berlin two years ago, there is far more new and shiny to contemplate in a city transformed for the Olympic Games.
Quite apart from the transformation in behaviour that has accompanied these games (the broad smiles providing a radical counterpoint to last summer when rioting gripped the capital) there is a definite feeling of a topographical shift afoot in this sprawling city.
You see it immediately on the transport map, where orange and turquoise lines representing the Overground and Docklands Light Railway extensions, have woven their way into the fabric of this city. At a glance, the extent of navigable London looks half as big again, new areas opened up to exploration (and, it must be said investment and its inescapable twin, property speculation), dragging attention eastwards to boroughs once neglected by the majority of Londoners.
What they find on their sorties eastwards is a rash of new development, which has yet to be fully completed. It will take approximately two years to transform the Olympic park when the Games and Paralympic Games are finished – but the hope is a for a genuine new community here amidst the currently somewhat utilitarian Olympic Village, rather than a ghostly collection of white elephant venues.
That will be the tangible measure of the Legacy talk which sold London as a host to the IOC, but the harder to quantify legacy will be in the attitudes of those touched by the Olympics – will those smiles last when the circus leaves town?
It is very easy to answer such questions with a cynical and abrupt “No”. But from what I have seen of London and Londoners during these Games, there are almost no nooks and crannies in the psyche of those involved for cynicism to take hold.
Every morning, arriving at the Park, a little more jaded after another day surviving on a diet of sport and coffee, I feel euphoric again, surrounded by beaming crowds almost walking on air with the joy of arriving for their Olympic day out.
“Inspire a generation” is the motto of these games, again a marketing slogan it is easy to sniff at. But to do so would be to render a massive disservice to everyone wearing a rapt smile on their faces here right now, from the brilliant volunteers to the kids streaming out of venues at the end of each day.
London has changed since I left – but its metamorphosis may go on a lot longer yet.
Author: Titus Chalk / rg